LAKE OKEECHOBEE – A vast expanse of yellow flowers skim the surface near the shore of Lake Okeechobee in a photo shared by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
American lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is native to Florida. Its leaves are immersed above the water or floating on the surface. American lotus can be found in muddy, shallow waters, such as lake margins; or in water as deep as 6 feet. American lotus occurs throughout Florida and it flowers from May through August.
This aquatic plant is very easy to identify. Its flowers, seed pods, and leaves are distinctive. Its flowers are up to 6 inches wide. The flowers are luminescent yellow, with many petals and stamens. The leaves are circular. They are easily distinguished from other circular-leaf plants. Other plants, such as the fragrant water lily, all have leaves that are cut. American lotus leaves, though, are not cut at all. American lotus leaves are on long, stiff stalks. The stalks connect to the leaf at the very center of the leaf, umbrella-like. American lotus seed pods can be purchased at flower shops in flower arrangements. This hard, flat-topped, cone-shaped fruit contains many large brown seeds.
According to “Edible Wild Plants: The American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea” by Melody Rose, the American lotus was once an essential part of the Native American diet:
“Native peoples depended on this plant for a large part of their diets. All parts of the plant are edible, from the young leaves and shoots, to the acorn-like seeds produced in the unique shower-head shaped center. However, it was the large fleshy root or tuber that they used most frequently. It was used much like a potato in soups and stews and provided much needed starchy carbohydrate fuel for their diets. The seeds were ground into flour or roasted and the leaves were wrapped around foods for baking.
“The green seeds were boiled like peas and the mature seeds contained enough natural oil that they could even be popped. This is the most nutritious part of the plant with the seeds containing up to 19% protein. There are many common names that indicate that this plant was used for food by many people. Alligator Corn, Duck Acorns, Water Chinquapin and Pond Nuts are just a few of its more colorful handles.
“The substantial root does not contain a significant amount of vitamins or nutrients, however since many are over a foot long and several inches thick, they are a substantial carbohydrate source. Native Americans even cultivated them in community lakes or ponds and introduced the colonial settlers to the food. The roots are best baked much like a sweet potato with the resulting taste being very similar.”
Some information for this article came from the University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants